I like my crime novels like I like my coffee: very dark and very bitter.
I loved Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell by Jacques Tardi, adapted from a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette.
This astonishing graphic novel is a bleak noir story of murder, gunplay, betrayal, corruption, the true depraved reality behind seeming idyllic fronts, and so much more. It’s a bleak and existentially shocking journey into everyday horror, exploring a world of people who are broken – or, more than that, these characters aren’t just broken, because that implies that they once had some sort of time in which they held themselves together. These are pathetic rejects of society living their pointless lives of murder, deceptions and lies in full view of everybody else, driving their fancy cars and living in their beautiful homes and being acclaimed by the suckers, but ultimately in their center is a black hole of abject wretched nothingness.
Run Like Crazy is also a hell of a lot of fun.
Drawn beautifully by the genius Tardi with his usual hand-hewn combination of looseness and fascinating specificity, what comes through more than anything are two things: the vividness of these horrible characters, and the arbitrariness of the events that unfold.
The first character we meet in this book is Thompson, and as we meet him, Thompson seems the coolest cold-blooded killer one can imagine. As you can see from the page above, he slices up the heart of a pederast with the anger of a murderer and the precision of a surgeon. But in a beautiful twist that gets to the heart of the smartness of Run Like Crazy, Thompson feels relief from great stomach pains only when a hit goes well. When a hit goes badly he often suffers blinding pain in his guts, a kind of dreadful “spider sense” that tortures him and becomes a key aspect of this story.
As the story meanders forward, we meet more fascinatingly broken characters: a trip to a beautiful mansion reveals a man pissing onto a molehill as another is throwing rocks at a fancy car that holds a surprising passenger. This is the house of rich philanthropist Michael Hartog, and she is Julie Ballanger, one of his many rescue missions, a woman who had lived in a mental institution for many years. Hartog hired epileptics, one-armed men, wheelchair-bound people to work in his factory so the fact he gives a second chance to Ballanger appears normal in this context. Hartog and Ballanger provide an interesting juxtaposition: high and low, millionaire and crazy woman next to each other, and we are lulled into a false sense of security by the seeming banality of the setup. Ballanger, it turns out, is a dangerous woman and there were good reasons for her to be locked away.
Yeah, reader, you can guess what comes next: nothing is quite as it appears on the surface, especially once Julie starts nannying Hartog’s nephew Peter, whose greeting consists of him throwing a toy into his TV, shattering the screen.
Symbolically that scene launches the shattering of the lives of these already broken men and women, leading to a kidnapping gone wrong, a gritty escape that had me on the edge of my seat, a shootout in a supermarket as thrilling, dark and astonishing as anything I’ve read in comics, and a conclusion of almost Shakespearean gloom. It’s all so arbitrary, giving the feeling of frustrated children with adult appetites struggling around in the blackness that their souls project. There’s no reason for the dreadful events in the supermarket besides hubris, an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a blithe, depraved indifference to the lives of others.
It’s everyday horror, the noir that lives right outside our windows (well, if we lived in Paris) and threatens to pull us in and downward, ever downward, until we must run like crazy and run like hell just to be able to live another day in this world. Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell is dizzyingly exciting and terrifying. It’s a portrait of deeply broken people and the way that their hubris destroys everybody’s lives – including their own. By the end of this book I was gasping with excitement.